Kadia Schuneman - 2020 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Laser Manufacturing Engineer
FLIR Systems, Inc., USA
Country of Birth: USA
Growing up I loved science and learning how things worked. My mom, an educator, instilled the value of lifelong learning at an early age so I was hungry to learn more. My dad was never afraid to try new things and I learned perseverance and learning through trial and error while working with him. I was fortunate to have a rural upbringing where we often had to build the tools to perform a task. This experience gave me a solid set of skills to build my engineering career on.
My role at FLIR Systems has evolved over the years but my responsibility has always been to identify and resolve problems. I am fortunate to have a balance of design, manufacturing, and problem-solving in my days, so I am never bored. My favorite part of my job is new product transition because I serve as the conduit between the design engineers and the manufacturing team. I see my value to my team in this role because not all engineers can communicate effectively with manufacturing technicians and procurement.
The biggest obstacle I have faced in my career has been working outside my field of study. To overcome the difference between my formal education and my hands-on work needs, I had to rely on logic and observation. While studying engineering, I learned how to collect data and document my observations. We were doing things no one else in the world was doing so there were no classes or papers to read to help me out. Even if I didn’t understand exactly why I got a certain result, I could document what I saw and use it to plan my next test.
I wish someone would have told me, “Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand” and “trust your answer.” I was a good listener during meetings but often kept my questions and answers to myself because I was afraid of showing my lack of experience or knowledge. It took me ten years to feel confident in my answers. Don’t wait for your “confidence,” speak up and stimulate discussion.
Don’t let your fear be an obstacle. Sometimes you can’t solve the problem without breaking something and often the learning comes from fixing what you broke. Believe in yourself, your observations, and logic to find the solution to a problem. Fear keeps us from sitting up front, asking questions, applying for jobs, and trying things outside the box. Sometimes you may be the only woman in the room and that is okay.